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St. Paul: Looking back, looking forward

October 25, 2019


Departure Time. The year was 67 AD. St. Paul was in his mid-70s, an old man by First Century standards. He was in Rome, a bad place for Christians. The Roman Emperor Nero was waging a large scale persecution against Christians. Paul was in prison. Many other Christians had already been put to death, and Paul could see the handwriting on the wall. When he wrote, “The time of my departure is at hand” (2 Tm 4:6), “departure” means death. It was Paul’s way of saying that he knew that the time of his martyrdom was drawing ever nearer.

Paul as a Libation. Today a libation is an alcoholic beverage, but that is not its original meaning. Initially a libation was a blood sacrifice (e.g., Ex 24:5-8). Over time there was a shift away from animal sacrifice and the spilling of blood. Eventually wine was used as a substitute for blood, and the pouring of wine on the ground was an alternative for sprinkling the blood of an animal. When Paul wrote, “I am already being poured out like a libation,” it was a metaphorical way to describe how he had poured out his life completely in service of Jesus and the gospel.

The Race to the Finish. Paul compared his life to a long-distance running race (2 Tm 4:7). He was born and raised in Tarsus, a city in southeastern Turkey. He had moved to Jerusalem to become better-educated in the Jewish faith. As a young man he was zealous and persecuted Christians, but then came his dramatic conversion after Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. It had been roughly forty years since his baptism. His “race” was one long-distance event after another, three missionary journeys in all, to Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Rome, widely over the Middle East and the northern Mediterranean. He was an elite Christian endurance athlete, the Apostle to the Gentiles, the one who took the gospel of Jesus to the world.

Fighting the Good Fight. As Paul looked back over his life, he enjoyed a sense of inner peace knowing he had given Jesus his best effort. Yes, he had regrets about the terrible things that he had done in his early years, but with the grace of God he was able to turn his life around. Great love, heroic service, and long-suffering for the sake of the gospel covered a multitude of sins. For whatever Paul may have done wrong in the past, in his final years he was in superb spiritual shape. Paul had grown close to Jesus and knew that they were on the best of terms.

Looking Ahead. Paul concluded, “The crown of righteousness awaits me” (2 Tm 4:8). It was his poetic way to say, “After I die, I am confident that God will reward me with a place in heaven.” Despite the fact that he was in dreadful anticipation of his execution, spiritually he was totally at peace knowing that he had given his best. All would be well in the end.

Now it is Our Turn. Paul’s race is over, but ours continues. Paul turned his life around. No matter what sins we may have committed, we still have time to turn away from sin and rededicate our lives completely to Jesus and the gospel. The goal is to be able to look back knowing that we have done our best and to look forward to our heavenly reward.

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Sacred Scripture, wisdom for salvation

October 18, 2019


Sacred Scripture

The Word of God. Sacred Scripture is the writings of the Holy Bible, all of the books in both the Old and New Testaments. These books are on an approved list called the Canon of Sacred Scripture because they are considered authentic, contain correct teaching, and have been in continuous use throughout the centuries.

The Human Word of Almighty God. Sacred Scripture is the Word of God and inspired by God. The words are “human,” the words that people use to express themselves, and the authors are human, real people such as Moses and Isaiah, Matthew and Mark, Peter and Paul. God did not dictate the words that were to be written, nor did God insert the words into their brains or direct their pens. Each author wrote freely.

Inspiration. The composition of Scripture is guided by the Holy Spirit. It is “revelation,” something about God or the truth that the author could not have known or learned on his own. Revelation comes in mystical ways such as dreams, messages brought by angels, voices, visions, thoughts, and insights.

Scripture’s Limitations. Scripture is one way that God communicates with us. God uses words, yet words in themselves are finite, limited, and cannot say everything. Words reveal something of God but not everything of God because God is infinite and transcends the limited nature of words. They cannot convey everything that there is to know about God, but they do reveal a great deal. Scripture is an act of love by God, God taking the initiative to communicate with us.

Scripture, the Source of Wisdom. St. Paul wrote that “sacred scriptures … are capable of giving you wisdom” (2 Tm 3:15). The word “wisdom” is carefully chosen. He avoided the word “knowledge.” Scripture is not information, a history book to learn or a theology book to study, matters of the mind to know and understand. Scripture is a matter of the heart. It is not only what we know but what we believe. It is what we love, value, and treasure. It is our passion. It is to be devoured by us and become the fabric of our being (see Ez 3:1-4).

Wisdom. Wisdom is the first gift of the Holy Spirit (Is 11:2). It is the ability to exercise good judgment. It distinguishes between right and wrong. It seeks and upholds truth and justice. It is oriented toward the common good. It is the parent of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. It is one with the truth, and the closer we get to the truth, the closer we get to God.

Teaching, Reproof, Correction, and Training. Scripture is useful for teaching: it contains the truth about God and serves as the basis for doctrine; for reproof, to reject errors, distortions, deceptions, heresies, and false teaching; for correction, to correct misunderstandings and misapplications, to expose wrong decisions and actions, and to help a person get back on the right track; and for training in righteousness, to help a person to grow in goodness and virtue, and to increase in their desire to obey and please God.

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St. Wenceslaus, Martyr

September 27, 2019

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St. Wenceslaus was born near Prague in 907. His father was Duke Wratislaw and his mother was Drahomira, the daughter of the chieftain of the Veletians, a Slavic tribe to the north. She was a pagan and opposed Christianity. St. Wenceslaus was educated and raised in the faith by his grandmother, St. Ludmilla.

St. WenceslausIn 920 St. Wenceslaus lost his father who died at war in a battle with the Magyars. His mother Drahomira resented his grandmother who was a powerful political figure and a Christian, and she had her murdered in 921. Drahomira seized control of the government and enacted a number of anti-Christian policies. This spawned a Christian uprising and Drahomira was deposed.

St. Wenceslaus rose to power as the Duke and king of Bohemia in 922 at the age of fifteen. He promoted Christianity and worked to ease tensions between Christian and non-Christian factions. Society was chaotic. There were nobles who abused their power and ruffians who intimidated the peasants. St. Wenceslaus was strict and firm, restored order, and suppressed the lawless.

As he began his reign his advisors urged him to charge his mother with treason to take revenge for the murder of his grandmother and her efforts against Christianity. With mercy and forgiveness he refused to send his mother into exile.

St. Wenceslaus was a man of utmost faith and a benevolent ruler. According to an old Slavic legend, he “was charitable to the poor, and he would clothe the naked, feed the hungry and offer hospitality to travelers according to the summons of the gospel. He would not allow widows to be treated unjustly; he loved all of his people, both rich and poor” (Office of Readings).

The Bavarians attempted to invade Bohemia from the south, and under his military leadership the Bohemian army was able to repel the attack, and he was widely acclaimed by his people.

St. Wenceslaus took a friendly posture toward Christian Germany, recognized King Henry the Fowler of Germany as the successor of Charlemagne, and acknowledged that the king was overlord of Bohemia. Some of the nobility vehemently disagreed with this policy. In addition, the non-Christian nobles resisted his pro-Christian position. While he strove for unity and harmony, there was much dissension and opposition.

St. Wenceslaus was married and had a son. His younger brother Boleslaus was jealous, and when he realized that his nephew would inherit the throne ahead of him, he joined the anti-Christian opposition movement. Its evil leaders deceived Boleslaus, “Your brother Wenceslaus is conspiring with his mother and his men to kill you.” Boleslaus hatched his own murder plot.

Boleslaus invited his brother to his castle to celebrate the memorial of Sts. Cosmas and Damian on September 26. St. Wenceslaus was in the habit of going to church early each morning for Matins and Mass, and two days later Boleslaus was waiting at the church, struck him on the head, and two of his companions completed the assassination as they ran him through with their swords. He died on September 28, 929, at the age of 22. He was immediately recognized as a martyr, and his remains were taken to St. Vital Cathedral in Prague where they are enshrined.

St. Wenceslaus is the patron saint of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bohemia, and Moravia, and the cathedral of Cracow, Poland.

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St. Pius of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio)

September 20, 2019


St. Pius of Pietrelcina, commonly known as Padre Pio, was born on May 25, 1887, in the small southern Italian town of Pietrelcina. His parents, Grazio and Maria Giuseppa Forgione, were devout Catholics and poor peasant farmers. He was baptized the day after his birth at St. Ana’s Chapel and given the name Francesco, named after San Francesco, St. Francis of Assisi.

Padre PioFrancesco entered the Capuchin Franciscan Friars at the age of fifteen, was invested with the Capuchin habit on January 22, 1903, and chose the name Pius or Pio in honor of St. Pius II, the patron saint of Pietrelcina. He imposed severe fasts on himself, lost weight, compromised his immune system, and eventually became seriously ill with tuberculosis or bronchial pneumonia as well as raging fevers. He left the friary and returned to his family because they were better able to care for him. Once recovered, he returned to the community, moved to San Giovanni Rotondo and studied philosophy and theology. He was ordained a priest on August 10, 1910.

Less than a month after his ordination, on September 7, 1910, while at prayer in his family’s farmhouse in Piana Romana, Padre Pio received the invisible stigmata, the five wounds of the crucified Jesus. Eight years later, on September 20, 1918, while at prayer in the Friary Chapel at San Giovanni Rotondo, he had a mystical encounter with Jesus and received the visible stigmata, wounds that he carried on his hands, feet, and side for the next fifty years, and he did so with great humility covering his hands with gloves and his feet with stockings.

Padre Pio was highly regarded for his personal holiness and spiritual wisdom, and as a result throngs approached him for advice and encouragement. He also had a tremendous reputation as a kindly confessor. Many days he spent up to twelve hours in the confessional, and some years he reportedly heard as many as twenty-five thousand confessions. Not only did he give wise counsel, he was able to see into the penitent’s heart and determine if the person was unaware of or in denial about a sin, and able to help the person to both name and turn away from the sin.

As the steady string of pilgrims and the size of the crowds grew, so did his troubles. Members of his own Capuchin community and Vatican officials were increasingly jealous and skeptical, alleged that his stigmata was a fraud, and maintained that he was promoting himself. Padre Pio was placed under investigation more than ten times, his priestly faculties were suspended, and he was forbidden to say Mass or hear confessions. It was a cross of untold suffering for him to be doubted, ridiculed, and rejected, and for long periods he retreated into isolation. Dark as those days were, he never lost faith, kept his sense of humor, and remained steadfast in prayer, especially before the Eucharist. He often said, “I only want to be a poor friar who prays.” It took until 1968 before Pope Paul VI granted the official approval of the Church.

Padre Pio’s dream was to establish a hospital that would provide compassionate care for the poor, and it was realized with the establishment of La Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, the Home for the Relief of Suffering, a one thousand bed hospital. It was dedicated in 1956 and it continues its mission today in conjunction with an international bioscience research facility.

Padre Pio died September 23, 1968 at the age of 81, was beatified in 1999 in the presence of 250,000 people, and canonized by Pope John Paul II on June 16, 2002. St. Pius of Pietrelcina is the patron saint of civil defense volunteers and Catholic adolescents.

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Our Lady of Sorrows

September 13, 2019


Our Lady of Sorrows

Various Spiritual Titles. Our Lady of Sorrows is known by a number of different names. In Latin, she is called the Mater Dolorosa, the Sorrowful Mother. Mary endured The Seven Dolors or the Seven Sorrows.

A Two Day Celebration. A memorial that honors Mary is combined with a feast that honors Jesus. The Exaltation of the Holy Cross is on September 14 and Our Lady of Sorrows is on September 15. Similarly, earlier in the year, the Sacred Heart of Jesus is paired with the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Like Son, Like Mother. Both the hearts of Jesus and Mary were pierced. The heart of Jesus was pierced when a soldier thrust his lance into the side of Jesus (Jn 19:34a), and when Mary presented her infant son Jesus in the Temple, Simeon told her, “You yourself a sword will pierce” (Lk 2:35).

Mary’s Sorrow. Mary shows in a heartrending way how when the person you love suffers, you suffer along with them. A mother suffers when her child suffers. As Jesus hung on the Cross in agony, Mary stood at the foot of the Cross (Jn 19:25) agonizing along with him. Mary suffered her own passion as she participated in her son Jesus’ Passion.

One of Seven. Mary’s sorrow at the foot of the Cross was not her first or her last. Traditionally there are seven sorrows of Mary, three during the early years of Jesus’ life and four on Good Friday. The first sorrow was Simeon’s prophecy, the troubling announcement that her heart would be pierced by a sword. The second sorrow was the flight to Egypt (Mt 2:13-15), the terrible anguish Mary endured knowing that the king wanted to kill her child, the hardship of a grueling trip across the desert, and the sadness of living in Egypt as a refugee apart from family and friends for a number of years. The third sorrow was the overwhelming fear that she experienced when her son Jesus was lost for three days in the Temple (Lk 2:41-52).

The Four Sorrows of Good Friday. The fourth sorrow was the tragic moment when Mary met Jesus along a street in Jerusalem as he carried his Cross. The fifth sorrow was the torment she endured as she stood at the foot of the Cross and watched her son writhe in pain and then die such an ignominious death. The sixth sorrow was when Jesus was taken down from the Cross and laid in her arms. And finally, the seventh sorrow was for Mary to watch, weeping, as her son was laid in the tomb.

Special Mass Texts. In addition to the Scripture readings that are recommended for the Mass, either Heb 5:7-9 or Col 1:24-25 for the first reading, and either Jn 19:25-27 or Lk 2:33-35 for the gospel, the Lectionary also offers an optional Sequence, a prose reflection on Mary’s sorrows, and the Stabat Mater, a poetic reflection with the verses that are commonly sung with the Stations of the Cross.

Our Lady of Sorrows in Art. The most famous representation of the Sorrowful Mother is the Pieta by Michelangelo which is on display at St. Peter’s Vatican Basilica in Rome. The primary symbol for Our Lady of Sorrows is a red heart pierced on top by a single sword. Mary is often portrayed with her head slumping, supported by her hand, her eyes downcast, and her face streaming with tears. She also is often shown with a single sword thrust into her chest or with her heart visible above her chest and pierced by seven swords.

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The History of the Devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows

September 13, 2019


The biblical origin of the memorial of our Lady of Sorrows is found in the Infancy Narrative of the gospel of Luke when, during the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Simeon told the Blessed Mother Mary, “You yourself a sword will pierce” (Lk 2:35). It was a deeply disturbing message on what should have been an extremely joyful day. Simeon forewarned Mary that she would endure much hardship in the future: burdens and anxiety, pain and suffering, tears and mourning. It was unknown when it would happen, how it would happen, or how hard it would be, but trouble surely was coming. The announcement itself was a sorrow for Mary.

Church historians believe that St. Anselm (1033-1109), a Benedictine monk, bishop, and Doctor of the Church, and the Benedictines, were the first to introduce the concept of Our Lady of Sorrows or the Sorrowful Mother during the Eleventh Century. The first liturgical celebration of the feast was during the Twelfth Century.

By the Fourteenth Century the single sorrow of Mary had been expanded to seven, three from the early years and four from Good Friday. The first three sorrows of Mary are Simeon’s painful prediction (Lk 2:35), the panic-stricken Flight into Egypt and the years spent as a refugee (Mt 2:13-15,19-22), and the acute anxiety of losing her son for three days (Lk 2:48). The final four sorrows of Mary are her encounter with Jesus as he carried his Cross, the torment of standing at the foot of the Cross to witness her son’s suffering and death (Jn 19:25a), the anguish of receiving his lifeless body in her arms as he was taken down from the Cross, and the grief of watching her son’s burial as he was laid in the tomb.

During the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries two religious orders, the Cistercians and the Servites of Mary, were strong advocates of the devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows through their preaching and missionary work, and the devotion spread throughout Europe and more broadly to the universal Church. The Servites consider Our Lady of Sorrows as their patron saint, they celebrate her memorial as their patronal feast, and it was first celebrated by their order in 1423 in Cologne, Germany.

The memorial gained greater momentum in 1482 when it was added to the Missal under its former name, “Our Lady of Compassion.” Compassion was used because Jesus’ Passion became Mary’s passion, and as Jesus suffered, she suffered with him.

In 1668 the Servites of Mary introduced a similar devotion to commemorate the Seven Dolors of Mary. It was placed on the Roman Calendar in 1814 and celebrated on the first Sunday after September 14.

In 1727 Pope Benedict XIII universalized the devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows when he placed it on the Roman Calendar, and for nearly two hundred years it was celebrated by the worldwide Church on the Friday before Palm Sunday. Then in 1913 Pope Pius X permanently transferred the memorial to September 15, the day after the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14, to combine the celebration of and reflection upon of the Passion of Jesus and the passion of Mary on consecutive days (see Lodi, E., Saints of the Roman Calendar, 264).

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St. Bartholomew

August 23, 2019


Nothing is known about St. Bartholomew except that he was one of the original twelve apostles (Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:14; Acts 1:1). Was he a fisherman like some of the other apostles, or a farmer, a shepherd, or a craftsman? How did Jesus call him? How quickly did he respond? What was his personality like?

As little as is known about him, it is safe to presume that St. Bartholomew was an ordinary fellow like the others. It is highly unlikely that he was from the upper class, wealthy, well-educated, or a polished public speaker.

As an apostle, St. Bartholomew accompanied Jesus over the three years of his public ministry (Lk 8:1). Like the other apostles, even though he heard Jesus’ preaching and saw his miracles, he did not understand much of what Jesus said, was confused about who Jesus was, and was afraid many times. He supposedly was in Jesus’ inner circle, a partner and a friend, yet on the night that Jesus was arrested, he fled (Mt 26:56; Mk 14:50), and when Jesus was crucified, he was nowhere to be found. He did little to distinguish himself. He was an average person, plain and unremarkable, timid and weak, cautious and reserved in his commitment to Jesus.

This all changed, and suddenly. St. Bartholomew experienced an astonishing transformation. When he encountered the risen Jesus, Jesus roused his courage. Then he received the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. He had been lukewarm, and suddenly he was on fire for the Lord. Ordinary became extraordinary. Dull became brilliant. Halfhearted became rock solid. Sputtering became supercharged. Reserved became outspoken. Private went public.

St. Bartholomew had spent his whole life in Galilee, but now would take the gospel on the road. His only concerns had been mundane things, but now his concern was the Kingdom of God. He had shied away from opposition and conflict, and now he was ready to do battle with the world.

Church historians believe that St. Bartholomew made a number of missionary journeys. There is evidence that he made a major trip to India and founded a Christian community on the Malabar Coast. There are also reports that he made easterly expeditions to Mesopotamia and Persia, to the modern areas of Syria, Iraq, and Iran; and northwesterly expeditions to Phrygia and Lycaonia, regions in central and east central Asia Minor or Turkey. Tradition holds that his final missionary journey was to the west coast of the Caspian Sea in Armenia, southern Russia, where he both made converts and was martyred.

St. Bartholomew was an ordinary person, and Jesus called him to do extraordinary things in his name. He may have been unworthy, but Jesus made him worthy. He may have been weak, but Jesus gave him strength.

Likewise, most of us are rather ordinary. We have our shortcomings and faults. Yet, despite our limitations and flaws, Jesus still calls us not only to follow him but also to serve him, and to do so without holding back. Jesus uses ordinary people. He givse us courage. The Holy Spirit gives us power.

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St. John Eudes – Priest and Founder

August 16, 2019


St. John Eudes

St. John Eudes is a great French saint of the Seventeenth Century. He was born in Ri, France, in the region of Normandy and the Diocese of Seez, in 1601. His family lived on a farm. He was the oldest of seven children.

He was educated by the Jesuits. At the age of 22 he became a member of the newly established French Congregation of the Oratory, the Oratorians, a religious order founded by Peter de Berulle in Paris, with a special charism for preaching. He was ordained a priest in 1625 and remained a member of the community for the next twenty years.

During the early years of his priesthood his special ministry was to preach parish missions throughout Normandy and Brittany. Some missions were a week, others several weeks, and a few were a month or more. He was a dynamic preacher and did much to revitalize and strengthen the faith of those who attended. He also gave retreats and conferences for priests.

It was also the time of the Counter Reformation, the time after the Council of Trent (1545-1563), and the Church’s response to the Protestant Reformation. Jansenism was a heretical movement that had many adherents in France. Jansen taught that the material world including the human body is evil, grace is given only to a few, and that people are such sinners that they are unworthy to receive the Eucharist. The common folk were easily misled and clergy with poor training were swayed. St. John Eudes boldly and courageously corrected the errors of Jansenism with his clear and persuasive proclamation of sound doctrine.

During this same period he served as the superior of the Oratorian monastery at Caen, France. There were several outbreaks of the plague, and he spent much time and energy in the spiritual and physical care of the victims. He also pondered the depths of the spiritual life, and he gathered his reflections in a book, The Life and Kingdom of Jesus in Christian Souls, which was published in 1637. It was so popular that it went through sixteen editions during his lifetime.

In 1641 he founded the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge, today known as the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Their mission was the care of morally endangered women, particularly those trapped in prostitution, and to help them to live virtuous Christian lives.

In 1643 he wished to open a seminary in Caen, a plan that was supported by the local bishop but opposed by the new superior of the Oratorians. As a result he decided to leave the community to found the Society of Jesus and Mary (C.I.M.), a society of diocesan priests commonly known as the Eudists. His goal was to reform the clergy, and six seminaries were established, one in Caen, and five in other French cities, to strengthen the education and training of future diocesan priests. Today the worldwide membership is about 450.

He also had a deep devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He believed that Jesus, whose heart was pierced by a lance, is the source of all holiness, and that Mary, whose heart was pierced by a sword, is the greatest model of how to live the Christian life. He explained this devotion in two books, The Devotion to the Adorable Heart of Jesus, published in 1671, and The Admirable Heart of the Most Holy Mother of God, completed one month before his death.

St. John Eudes died in Caen in Normandy, France, on August 19, 1680 at the age of 79. He was beatified in 1909 and canonized a saint by Pope Pius XI in 1925.

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The preface for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

August 9, 2019



Each year on August 15 the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption, the belief that Mary was assumed, taken up body and soul to heaven, where she lives in eternal glory with her son Jesus. The prayers that are said at Mass, particularly the Preface, provide a concise statement of the major aspects of this dearly held belief.

The first sentence is, “For today the Virgin Mother of God was assumed into heaven.” “Today” seems to imply that the Assumption is happening at the present moment, when in fact it took place centuries ago. The Assumption is being remembered and honored today.

“Virgin” is a major statement about Jesus. The Holy Spirit came upon Mary, and the power of the Most High overshadowed her (Lk 1:35). It was the Holy Spirit in partnership with the Father that was the source of Jesus’ life. Jesus did not have human origins. He is divine.

“Mother of God” is another powerful statement, partly about Mary, but more importantly about Jesus. Jesus is “Son of God and Son of Mary”; he has two natures, divine and human. Mary is Theotokos, the bearer of God (Ephesus, 431 AD), and her son Jesus is not a holy man, a prophet, or an exceptional human being, but truly God, one of the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity.

“Assumed into heaven” is the belief that Mary was taken up into heaven, and in doing so, she joined elite company. The Bible names only two others who have been assumed to heaven, Elijah who went to heaven on a flaming chariot (2 Kgs 2:11), and Jesus who was taken up to heaven in a cloud (Acts 1:9). It is presumed that Moses also ascended because “no one knows the place of his burial” (Dt 34:6). Jesus and Mary were both without sin, and as Jesus was rewarded by his Father by being ascended to heaven, Mary was rewarded by her Son by being assumed into heaven.

The Preface continues, Mary is “the beginning and image of your Church’s coming to perfection.” Mary is “the beginning,” the first disciple of Jesus, the first member of his Church. She is also the “image of your Church,” the perfect model of discipleship, the picture of virtue, loving, kind, and generous, and Christians are to follow her example.

Next, Mary is mentioned with regard to the “Church’s coming to perfection.” The members of the Church are far from perfect, but Mary was immaculately conceived, free of sin from the beginning, and she avoided all forms of sin her entire life, free from sin until the end, sinless from start to finish, “perfect.” “Coming” acknowledges that perfection is the desired outcome and that this is a lifelong journey. Every disciple individually and the Church collectively is invited to become more like Mary, to root out all forms of sin and grow in holiness.

The Preface goes on to say that Mary is “a sign of hope and comfort.” The hope is that if Mary was taken up to heaven at the end of her time on her, that on the day of our death we will be taken up to heaven as she was. It is natural to be nervous about what will happen to us when we die, and it is a source of immense comfort to know that the glorious journey that Mary made to heaven is promised to every faith-filled believer.

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Mary and Martha: Ora et labora

July 19, 2019


Jesus and St. Benedict were on the same page. Their advice was the same, and it was wise advice. Martha did not particularly like the advice. Neither did many of St. Benedict’s monks. Nor do hard working people who are constantly on the go.

Mary and Martha with JesusWhen Martha was laboring in the kitchen, Jesus observed, “Mary has chosen the better part” (Lk 10:42). When St. Benedict’s monks were ready to go to work in the monastery kitchen or dining room, the barn or the fields, the laundry or the workshop, the library or the classroom, he cautioned them with his famous motto, Ora et labora, pray and work, and in this order. It is crucial to follow the proper sequence. Prayer goes first. Work comes second.

The Christian life is about service. Jesus came not to be served but to serve (see Mt 20:28 and Mk 10:45), and he taught that “whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all” (Mk 10:43). The Collect for the memorial of St. Benedict on July 11 says that he was “an outstanding master in the school of divine service.” If Martha was thoroughly engaged in service, why would Jesus say that Mary had chosen the better part? If St. Benedict’s monks were chomping at the bit to get to work, why would he slam on the brakes with his instruction, Ora et labora?

Why? Martha was hot and bothered while she was laboring. She was upset with her workload. She was angry and frustrated with her sister who was no help. She was whining to herself. She complained to Jesus. She had a nasty disposition. It was no way to work.

St. Benedict’s monks often labored aimlessly. They were good men who completed their tasks, but the monks performed their tasks mindlessly, not concentrating, daydreaming, unfocused, without a sense of purpose, trudging along, and not all that happy. It was no way to work.

St. Benedict told his monks to pray before going to work. Jesus was pleased with Mary because she sat at his feet to listen to his instructions before she joined her sister Martha with the kitchen duties. Work without guidance often goes awry. It can easily be misdirected. The labor can seem meaningless or feel like drudgery.

When a person sits at the feet of the Master, like Mary did, or when the monks pray early in the morning, like St. Benedict’s monks did, the labor is properly guided. The work is motivated by love of God. It is done cheerfully and gladly. The load feels lighter. The time goes faster. The day seems brighter. The energy is stronger. Interactions with coworkers are more positive. The people who are served are treated better. The tasks are done with greater integrity. The work has greater purpose. It is more rewarding. There is more satisfaction. And most importantly, it is more pleasing to God.

We have long lists of tasks to do. We don’t want to wait. We want to jump right in and get going. This is dangerous. It is important to pause first, take a moment, sit at the feet of the Master, pray, and get our bearings for the day. Then, once grounded and pointed in the right direction by Jesus, we will be ready to begin the labors of the day.

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